This anxiety has colored every milestone in his life for me. When Tommy started walking on time, I celebrated, but worried that he wouldn't talk when he was supposed to. When Tommy did start talking, I was concerned that he seemed to be echoing everything he heard. Could he have echolalia? Once he started speaking in sentences and I became convinced he does not, in fact, have echolalia, I prayed that his obsession with Thomas the Train was not a sign of Asperger's Syndrome.
If there is a symptom of autism spectrum disorder, you can be guaranteed I have been watching for it in my poor baby, zeroing in on any aberrant behavior like a heat-seeking missile.
I am pretty sure he is fine developmentally and I do not believe he has autism. Still, I worry.
And because this is on my mind all the time, and because I worry in a way I never would have had I not already had a child on the spectrum, and because I am slightly neurotic, I have a tendency to maybe be a touch on the sensitive side if someone even remotely suggests that my 2 youngest kids might not be 100% developmentally perfect.
Yesterday, I took Charlotte in for her kindergarten screening. When we got to the site, the school social worker (who knows my family because of her work with Danny) suggested I take Tommy in to the Early Intervention screening while I waited for Charlotte. She informed me that children as young as birth can be screened just to make sure they are on track developmentally. She must have forgotten how intimately familiar I am with the EI system.
So, there I was, being strong-armed into taking Tommy into a room with some early education lady to see if he's on track. Just for grins. You know, in case I wasn't already worn raw from the dozens and dozens of evaluations, screenings, and tests I have had to subject Danny to in his 7 short years of life.
I didn't want to do it. I just didn't. It's not that I was afraid they'd find something wrong with Tommy, though I would be lying if I said that this irrational idea hadn't crossed my mind. I just didn't feel up to the examination, the scrutiny, and the indirect, if unintended analysis of my parenting and teaching ability. Because I don't care what anyone says, there is an unspoken implication that the parents are either to blame or responsible for what her kid can and cannot do.
I have spoken with so many parents who proudly bragged about how well their kid did on some evaluation, believing in their hearts that it was a reflection of how well they prepared their child.
And I have heard other parents abashedly explain that little Jimmy can't button buttons because he has no darn buttons on any of his clothes. And Susie doesn't know where her knuckles are because her mother was too busy keeping her fed and reading her books to even think about teaching her such an obscure body part. These parents come away feeling inadequate, like they somehow have failed their kids. And that just sucks.
On top of that, I just knew, I KNEW that my delightful 2-year-old was not going to go along with what this smiling scary stranger wanted him to do.
The kid may not be developmentally delayed, but he IS stubborn.
Against my wishes, I allowed myself to be ushered into a classroom where I poured myself into a child-sized chair while holding a crying toddler on my lap. Right from the start, alarm bells went off in Miss Early Intervention's mind about my child. The first question out of her mouth was, "Do you stay home with Tommy?"
I couldn't help feeling like she blamed Tommy's crying on my decision to stay home. Especially after she asked the question again not 10 minutes later.
Tommy, as predicted, wanted nothing to do with Miss EI and her reindeer games. He wasn't interested in her boring two-piece puzzle. That kind of thing was old hat for Tom. He wasn't about to give in to her interrogation and answer her questions. He kept his lips glued together, not deigning to answer any of her questions.
Miss EI looked at me with concern and started grilling me. Does Tommy spend time with other people? When there are other kids around, does he play with them? If there are other people around, does Tommy go off in a corner by himself?
I mentally rolled my eyes when despite my every effort to reassure her that Tommy was actually quite a social little boy, she encouraged me to call her in three months if I had any concerns. Even after she conceded that Tommy's speech was advanced (he did finally start talking, but still refused to answer her questions, instead choosing to speak about his own topics of choice), she persisted in voicing concerns over his stranger anxiety.
Which is when I informed her that my oldest has autism, that I was well aware of the warning signs and I had been watching for symptoms for the last 2 years.
I know in my heart that Tom is fine. I know he most likely has Sensory Processing Disorder, but I am also convinced that autism is not a diagnosis he will ever receive. I am convinced he is right on track developmentally.
Still, sitting in that room, being grilled by a stranger who knew nothing about my son, made me doubt myself, made me worry I was wrong. Never mind that I am the kid's mother. Never mind that I have a Master's degree in education. Never mind that I am probably much better informed about autism than Miss EI is. And never mind that I know she was only doing her job. She wasn't necessarily saying Tommy was autistic. She was just bringing up issues that she felt should be raised.
It doesn't matter. I still doubted myself.
And this is why I detest these stupid screenings, though I know they are important and serve a purpose: because I allow them to make me doubt my judgment, which is no one's fault but my own.
NOTE: I don't intend to criticize the Early Intervention worker. She was just doing her job, and was doing it right. I think it's important to ask those questions, to make parents aware of autism, so they can get their kids diagnosed early. I am completely supportive of that. It's just that the whole process is less than pleasant for me. Because I'm cranky and PMS-ing and super, super sensitive.